Monday, October 13, 2008

Blood Doping

Well, it has happened again. Riders who had break-out performances in the Tour de France have now been busted for cheating.

Stefan Schumacher, who won both time trials in the TdF this year, and Bernhard Kohl, who won the King of the Mountains jersey and third place overall, have both had "non-negative" results for CERA, a new type of EPO.

Blood doping refers to a handful of techniques used to increase an individual's oxygen-carrying red blood cells, and in turn, improve athletic performance. The most commonly used types of blood doping include injections of erythropoietin (EPO), injections with synthetic chemicals that can carry oxygen, and blood transfusions, all of which are prohibited under the World Anti-Doping Agency's (WADA) List of Prohibited Substances and Methods.

EPO is produced naturally by the body. The hormone gets released by the kidneys and causes the body's bone marrow to pump out red blood cells. Red blood cells shuttle oxygen through a person's blood, so any boost in their numbers can improve the amount of oxygen the blood can carry to the body's muscles. The end result is more endurance.

Blood doping reduces fatigue by increasing the supply of oxygen to the exercising muscles. This does not increase the maximum force the muscle can generate but will permit the muscle to do more work for longer.

When used for legitimate medical reasons, EPO helps with the treatment of anemia related to cancer or kidney disease.

Blood transfusions involve drawing out your own blood and storing it for a few months while your body replenishes its red blood-cell supplies. Then, before the competition, the athlete re-injects the blood back into his or her body. The outcome is similar to that of EPO — a bump in red blood cells. For athletes, the extra bump can mean the difference between a winning a race or finishing off the podium.

Tricky testing. EPO urine tests, which began in 2000, have been fraught with challenges. EPO is short-lived, remaining in the body for as short a time as two days.

Somebody could cheat on Monday and if the drug-testers came on Wednesday, 48 hours might be enough for the stuff to be gone. But the performance effects can remain for 90 days or so.

Cheating athletes and those who administer their drugs constantly work to sneak under the testing radar, finding the lowest doses possible that still have performance effects or figuring out when to inject the drugs to beat testing.

Drug dangers. Blood doping has the potential of causing serious health effects. If the blood count gets too high, the blood gets too thick, and it becomes hard for the heart to push the blood around the body; the high blood count contributes to athletes having strokes or blood clots.

CERA. Like EPO, CERA was developed as a treatment for the anemia that results from chronic kidney disease. Unlike single injections of rEPO, CERA interacts with erythropoietin receptors and has a longer-lasting effect. Patients who were normally required to inject rEPO three times a week were able to achieve the same results with only one or two injections per month.

The drug was thought to be undetectable, but at least 4 riders have now been caught using the drug during the 2008 TdF; announcements of more "non-negative" results may follow.

Dopers suck.

They steal from clean riders, they steal from the fans, and they have driven sponsors from the sport, stealing opportunities from young riders.

So for those of us who ride for the love of it, doping is disappointing and I'm tired of defending cycling to people whose only cycling knowledge involves Floyd Landis.

But you know what? Dopers don't steal my enthusiasm for cycling. I love to ride my bike. It's that simple. And maybe if it was that simple for the racers we wouldn't ever have to hear about doping again.

No comments:

Post a Comment